This is the story of a romance that just works — cosmic conspiracies, life sentences and all.
One afternoon in late October 2007, Jo Ann Richards, a bookkeeper and grandmother from Southern California, sat in a quiet room to collect her thoughts. She was an invited speaker at Probe UK, the “longest-running UFO/paranormal/spiritual conference” in the United Kingdom. The speech she was about to give was one of many firsts she’d experienced so far on her trip: it was her first time overseas, her first time seeing Stonehenge, and her first time presenting at a conference. And her first talk was no small affair — she was going to speak about her husband Mark Richards, and his involvement with shadowy branches of the United States military and his travels to worlds far beyond our own.
As she sat in that back room, she could feel Mark cheering her on. But the sensation was bittersweet, as he could not see her speak firsthand: Mark is serving a life sentence for orchestrating a 1982 murder allegedly carried out to fund the takeover of Marin County, California, and transform it into his own kingdom called Pendragon.
Mark and Jo Ann maintain that his conviction was a C.I.A. frame job designed to discredit anything he’d say about his tenure as an intergalactic diplomat and warrior. But the longer he was in prison, the more he wanted to talk, and so in 2003 Jo Ann started a nonprofit foundation to help get out his life story. As Executive Director of Earth Defense Headquarters, she felt not only more connected to her husband but also that her own life was filled with a newfound sense of purpose.
“Aside from becoming a mother, I don’t know that I did anything noteworthy,” Jo Ann says of her life before she met Mark. “But everything totally changed.” It was on behalf of EDH that she went to England in 2007, steadfast in her mission to shine a light on the relationships between Earth and aliens from all over the universe.
Even though he wasn’t there in person, Mark’s spiritual squeeze as she sat in that back room was further assurance she was on the path she was meant to be on. Jo Ann’s ultimate dream is to help foster intergalactic peace alongside her husband, but it was a tragic and ill-conceived murder that initially set the couple on their path to becoming rogue scholars, alien truthers, and the closest of confidants.
* * *
July 6, 1982 was a hot day in Marin County, California, but the temperature had cooled considerably by the time Mark Richards was waiting in his ramshackle home office for his teenage cohorts to arrive. Richards, at the time 29, and close to six feet tall with the lean frame of a laborer, was a down-on-his-luck general contractor with an ambitious plan to get back on his feet.
Crossan Hoover and Andrew Campbell, both 17, worked for Richards, and the trio was planning to rob and murder Richard Baldwin, 36, the owner of an area auto restoration shop. Baldwin had a substantial car collection and was said to keep a large amount of cash in his home, and the proceeds from the robbery were reportedly going to be used to buy machine guns and parts for a laser gun. According to prosecutors, Richards was going to use the laser to blow up the bridges leading in and out of the county, and once the coup was complete, he was going to rename the territory “Pendragon” and rule over it as King. The teens agreed to participate after Richards allegedly plied them with promises of cash, dune buggies, and knighthood.
Once the teens arrived, they made their way to Baldwin’s residence and asked him to show them some cars. Richards gave a signal and Hoover killed Baldwin with a baseball bat. The group left with the body, $2,000, several guns, and copious amounts of marijuana. Baldwin was wrapped in a tarp, weighed down with a motor, and thrown into the San Pablo Bay.
However, police soon determined that Richards used Baldwin’s credit cards to buy jewelry and a boat. The body surfaced ten days later. The trio was arrested and charged with murder. In late 1984, after four days of deliberations, Richards was convicted of masterminding the murder and sentenced to life without parole. Hoover got 26 years to life, while Campbell was granted immunity for testifying against his whilom comrades.
Richards was sent to Folsom State Prison in Sacramento and began serving his sentence without much protest. As he recalls today, he knew he was innocent but there was little he could do about it. He knew the same agencies that put him there — most likely the CIA — could pull strings to get him out, and so he’d just have to bide his time. He was, after all, an intergalactic soldier and diplomat, like his father before him, and they had each given decades of their life in service to their country and their planet.
* * *
Richards has been a model prisoner for the 33 years he’s been incarcerated. He meditates and power-walks, facilitates a debate club, and helps inmates earn their GEDs. Richards, now 64 and balding but still sporting his trademark mustache, also spends a lot of time writing. Stuck in prison for the foreseeable future, Richards decided to put his literary skills to work to break his silence about his past. Or as Jo Ann puts it, he said, “Screw this, I’m going to reveal some stuff.”
In 1997, he began writing an extensive family history. Originally intended for his kids, the manuscript covers the travels, accomplishments, and careers of the men in his family, but it also serves as a way to explain the series of events that led to him being set up. (Richards was unavailable to comment for this story, but available sources include his writings, court documents, contemporary newspaper accounts, video interviews with Richards and numerous interviews with Jo Ann.)
According to Richards’s writings, his father, Ellis Richards, Jr., was a decorated secret soldier, and Mark was involved with secret military operations from an early age. Part of their service included membership in a clandestine intergalactic senate that negotiates extraterrestrial relationships with Earth. Mark began attending these conferences in 1961, and says that he played with alien kids his own age until he was old enough to participate in the proceedings himself. “He’s always had higher [security] clearances than the president, from the time he was a kid,” Jo Ann says.
The conferences are designed to facilitate friendly coexistence with “hundreds” of alien species, including raptors, giant cats and dogs, oceanic creatures, and entities made out of living crystal. Leaders of various Terran nations have negotiated treaties that exchange a set amount of human abductees for alien technology. It’s a tragic sacrifice, Richards writes, but one that has helped civilizations develop cell phones and space travel. But Richards also fought against aliens when he had too, often with his father. Notably, the two men were heroes in the legendary 1979 Battle of Dulce, in which humans were freed from the ghastly breeding experiments going on in a mountain base in New Mexico.
In another exciting encounter, Richards piloted a ship against enemy alien forces over China in 1976, which came through trans-dimensional gates opened with the “energy output of our sun for a year crammed into a half-second.” The ships had already begun collecting human cargo by the time the battle began, and Richards lost more than 80 percent of his men in the fight. He ultimately flew through a wormhole, which he wrote felt like a “million ants playing steel wool on your flesh,” and was able to close the gates, but not before the invaders caused an earthquake that killed almost a quarter-million people, the deadliest of the 20th century. The confrontation became known as the Battle of China Gates.
Despite the breadth of his writings — the manuscript is continually expanded and currently runs thousands of pages — Jo Ann Richards says that there is much that Mark will not reveal, as he maintains strict adherence to his military oath. Still, he feels his children and grandchildren should know the truth about their family’s legacy, and he realized he needed someone to help him with his gargantuan task. Fortunately, Jo Ann walked into the prison and into his life not long after he began writing, and there began the whirlwind romance that helped publicize Mark’s life story and redirected the course of Jo Ann’s life.
* * *
Her husband’s revelations were obviously shocking, and it took Jo Ann a little while to appreciate how serious he was about his past. She watched a few Martian movies as a kid, she says, but didn’t have any interest in the subject in her adult life. But the truth gelled when she went to her first UFO conference, as Mark’s revelations meshed with other accounts of battles, abductions, and interstellar intrigue. From there, the doors were thrown open to a much broader understanding of the universe than a middle-class Mormon girl from suburban California thought she’d ever have.
Jo Ann, who is stocky with chin-length brown hair and glasses, was born in 1954 and grew up in Southern California, the second-youngest of four siblings. She went to Brigham Young University and got married fairly young, though she and her first husband divorced not long after she gave birth to a baby girl. Following that marriage, she returned to school to study bookkeeping, and she has run a successful bookkeeping business the past 35 years. She devotes her spare time to the activities she has enjoyed her whole life — sewing, knitting, cooking, coddling her three cats — and being a grandmother to three grandkids.
Throughout the years, she was married and divorced “several times.” Two husbands passed away, she says, and other partners were not kind to her. “I had some pretty awful marriages,” she says, declining to elaborate further. However, by the mid-1990s, she was beginning to regain some optimism about the future, and it was around this time that she met Mark.
Jo Ann’s roommate at the time had a husband in prison, and Jo Ann would sometimes accompany her to visit him in prison. Her friend said she knew of a genuinely nice ex-military guy named Mark Richards doing time at the same facility, and the two were soon introduced. Jo Ann could tell Mark was different from the other men she had known — he was kind, patient, and a great talker.
“Smart would be a new kind of boyfriend to me, and I was really attracted to that,” she recalls. They talked nonstop that first visit and promised to keep in touch.
They spent months corresponding before she saw him again, but then the visits became a regular occurrence. Fortunately, Jo Ann worked two minutes from the prison at the time and could dash over at lunch.
“We had five years of just talking. Hours of talking multiple times per week — there were no other distractions,” she says. “It was a lot more talking than I’ve ever done with previous boyfriends or husbands.”
This solidified their bond, and the couple married in 2002.
About two years into their relationship, Mark asked Jo Ann to start editing a manuscript he was working on. At first, he only showed her bits and pieces, but from those fragments she gathered the scope of his family’s political connections and the true narrative of his life. Eventually, an article she read about UFOs hovering over prisons prompted her to ask him straight up about his past, and Mark confirmed what he wrote was true. He and his dad would go to meetings at Churchill’s house, he said, and the family was good friends with Jackie and John F. Kennedy. He was in fact taken to Saturn in seven seconds on an “alien-technology ‘living’ thinking craft that used a mind-control interphase between the ship and its human pilot.” He fought malicious aliens who partnered with Nazis and the “Red Chinese,” and he knew that Ross Perot funded the rescue mission at Dulce.
Despite the shocking information, Jo Ann says she took it all in stride. The information was “fed to her like baby food,” she says, a little at a time, and in any case she had no reason to doubt him, given the trust they’d been building since they met. “Strange as it sounds,” she says, “I had no trouble believing him. It didn’t surprise, shock, or alarm me. I found the information fascinating.” In fact, it wasn’t the content itself that was the most startling but rather that his life was filled with so many near-death experiences.
And when he asked her to help disseminate his story, she said she was happy to help him bring it to the wider world.
The couple’s first endeavor was a small newspaper, and then Jo Ann published two of Mark’s novels — sprawling, violent sci-fi affairs loosely based on his own adventures, through her imprint Dragonhill Books. Along the way, she began attending more esoteric conferences, where she first set up tables and sold Mark’s reports.
Based on the popularity of her conference publications, Jo Ann’s next project was Earth Defense Headquarters, an “educational nonprofit” dedicated to researching information in fields ranging from military history to sustainable living to extraterrestrial science and the magic arts, as well as distributing Mark’s writings, which are for sale on the site. Her prominence as the group’s executive director has taken her across the country and five times to England as an invited speaker.
Of course, people often tell her they don’t believe her, or challenge her about the particulars of Mark’s life. But this too she takes in stride.
One person, who wishes to remain anonymous but has set up a website purporting to debunk many of Mark’s claims, writes that there is scant proof that both of his grandfathers worked with Tesla, for example, or that his maternal grandfather was one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Roughriders. The researcher also writes that a search of military records reveals no mention of Richards having served in any branch of the armed forces. And some are wary of Mark’s seemingly guru-like personality. As Pendragon accomplice Crossan Hoover told a psychiatrist in 1982, “It was like [Richards] was coaching me. He would listen to what I said and push me on… I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t give a shit.”
But Jo Ann’s faith in her husband has remained unchanged since they met, and she is quite comfortable with her newfound understanding of the world. She is smart, funny, a good conversationalist, and as her bookkeeping client list indicates, very skilled at what she does.
“Yes, this does come up a lot,” she says with a shrug, “but we don’t really care. I don’t want people to think I blindly trust him. I know mentally — and more importantly, intuitively — that he is telling the truth. People try to disprove me and they can’t. I own this. We were meant to do this work together.”
And her overall happiness is hard to dispute. Though her family was initially fairly skeptical about the marriage — “We grew up like most people: if someone is in prison, he must be guilty,” Jo Ann says — now they’re happy to talk to her about her husband. Her sisters have even come to see her speak at a conference. Her daughter Melissa declined to comment for this article, but did say that she and her mother are very close.
Naturally, there are days when both Jo Ann and Mark are bitter about his situation. Mark has never met his grandkids, and a number of promising legal developments didn’t pan out. “We thought he’d be out in two years [after they met], but now it’s been almost 20,” Jo Ann says. “But I believe in manifesting what you want, and I want him to be able to get out. I really hope it’s before we’re both 90.”
Her homestead — Richards’s old family property — is EDH’s current headquarters and a research library open by appointment, but one of her long-term goals is to expand the use of the facilities. “My big dream,” she says, “is for he and I to have a big place somewhere out in the country, where our kids and our grandkids and our alien friends can all come. We can put on workshops and retreats, and people and aliens could come and go. What a better way to learn more about each other [and] do good work together? There are places where humans and aliens are working together just fine, but I would like to see that in my immediate world.”
Jo Ann thought she had merely found love when she married Mark, but she realized that she found something else too. Though Mark is in prison, Jo Ann is free to learn and explore on her own terms.
“I’m not saying he’s pushed me to be who I am, but this more powerful person who’s been inside me is now coming out,” she says. “I’m not just a meek bookkeeper but a powerful, successful woman on many levels. I know I have a lot more work to do in this realm, and I can’t envision stopping.”